Yoga and Buddhism: Similarities and Differences

Yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions which evolved in the same spiritual culture of ancient India. They use many of the same terms and follow many of the same principles and practices. For this reason it is not surprising that many of us, particularly after an initial exposure, are apt to regard Yoga and Buddhist teachings as not different.

Hindu Yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions which evolved in the same dharmic culture of ancient India. The Dalai Lama calls them “twin brothers”. They use many of the same terms and follow many of the same principles and practices. For this reason it is not surprising that many people, particularly after an initial exposure, are apt to regard Yoga and Buddhist teachings as almost identical. As a Vedic teacher who has interacted with important Buddhist teachers in India, I share my thoughts in this detailed study below.


 

Some people may want to combine Hindu Yoga and Buddhist teachings or practices, as if there were no real differences between them. The differences that have existed between the two systems historically may be less evident than their commonalities, particularly for those that neither tradition is part of their cultural background. Those who study one of these two traditions may be inclined to see the other as borrowing from it. Those who study Buddhism may find so much similarity in Yoga that they suspect a strong Buddhist influence on Yoga. Those who study Yoga may find so much similarity in Buddhism that they see a strong yogic influence on Buddhism and may regard Lord Buddha as originally a Hindu.

This tendency to find a commonality between these two great spiritual traditions is not limited to the West. Swami Vivekananda, the first great figure to bring Yoga to the West, examined the Buddhist Mahayana scriptures (Sutras) and found their key teachings and those of Vedanta that he followed to be ultimately in harmony. In recent years with the influx of Tibetan refugees into India, including the Dalai Lama, there has been a new dialogue between the two traditions that is bringing about greater respect between them. Tibetan Buddhists often appear at Hindu religious gatherings and partake in all manner of discussions.

Nor is the attempt to connect the two traditions limited to modern times. Various synthetic Hindu-Buddhist teachings have existed through history. Lord Buddha was born a Hindu and some scholars have argued that Buddhism as a religion apart from Hinduism did not arise until long after the Buddha passed away. A Shiva-Buddha teaching existed from India to Indonesia in medieval times, and for many Tantric Yogis it is difficult to tell whether they were Hindus or Buddhists. Buddha became accepted as an avatar of Vishnu for the Hindus, and most Hindus still consider that we live in the age of the Buddha-avatar. Most Hindus accept Buddha as a great teacher, even if they do not accept all Buddhist teachings.

Yet, similarities and connections aside, the two traditions have their differences, which are not always minor. Such synthetic trends did not exclude disagreements and debates between the two traditions. Nor did they ever succeed in fully uniting them. Their traditions and lineages remain separate to the present day. Generally the Hindu Yoga tradition sought to absorb Buddhism into itself by reinterpreting Buddha in a Vedantic light. Buddhism  strove to maintain its separate identity by stressing its disagreements with Vedic theism or the Vedic recognition of a higher Self. Most Hindu and Buddhist teachers, including those of the different Yoga schools of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhists, have found it necessary to discriminate their doctrines, particularly on subtle levels of practice and insight. Refutations of Buddhist teachings occur in yogic texts and refutations of yogic and Vedantic teachings occur in Buddhist texts. So while we can honor the connections between these two systems, we cannot overlook their differences either.

 


Vedic Yoga Tradition

By Yoga in the context of this examination we mean the classical Yoga system as set codified primarily by the Rishi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, but as part of the greater  and older Vedic tradition that Patanjali was part of, notably the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Patanjali was not traditionally regarded as the founder of Yoga but simply a compiler at a later period. Yogic terms and practices of (Yama and Niyama), postures (Asana), breathing exercises (Pranayama), control of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and absorption (Samadhi) were used long before him.

This integral or eightfold approach to Yoga is common to most schools of Vedic and Hindu thought and practice. They occur in pre-Patanjali literature of the Puranas, Mahabharata and Upanishads, where the name Patanjali has yet to occur. The originator of the Yoga system is said to be Hiranyagarbha, who symbolizes the creative and evolutionary force in the universe, and is a form of the Vedic Sun God.

Yoga can be traced back to the Rigveda itself, the oldest Hindu text which speaks about yoking our mind and insight to the Sun of Truth. Great teachers of early Yoga include the names of many famous Vedic sages like Vasishta, Yajnavalkya and Jaigishavya. The greatest of the Yogis is always said to be Sri Krishna himself, whose Bhagavad Gita is the main Yoga Shastra or authoritative work on Yoga. Among Hindu deities, Lord  Shiva who is the first and greatest of the Yogis or Adi Yogi. A comparison of classical Yoga and Buddhism brings in the larger issue of a comparison between Buddhist and Hindu teachings.

Some people, particularly in the West, have claimed that Yoga is not Hindu or Vedic but an independent or more universal tradition. They point out that the term Hindu does not appear in the Yoga Sutras, nor does the Yoga Sutra deal with the basic practices of Hinduism. Such readings are superficial. The Yoga Sutras abounds with technical terms of Vedic philosophy, which its traditional commentaries and related literature explain in great detail. The Vedic tradition also defines itself as universal and eternal or Sanatana Dharma.

The Yoga Sutras, which emphasizes the mantra OM as the basis of its teachings, is regarded as one of the six systems of Vedic philosophy accepting the authority of the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. Another great early Yogic text, the Brihat Yogi Yajnavalkya Smriti, describes Vedic mantras and practices along with Yogic practices of asana and pranayama. The same is true of the Yoga Upanishads, of which there are several dozen. Those who study this Yoga Sutras in isolation from this greater tradition are bound to make mistakes. The Yoga Sutras, after all, is a Sutra work. Sutras are short statements, often incomplete sentences that without any commentary often do not make sense or can be taken in a number of ways. To properly approach the Yoga Sutras and the Yoga tradition, one must look at the context of the teachings, commentaries and authoritative texts, not just modern opinions on the matter.

Other people, including many Yoga teachers, state that Yoga is not a religion. This can also be misleading, though it does have its point. Yoga is not part of any religious dogma proclaiming that there is only one God, church or savior as the only path. But Yoga is still a system deriving from Hinduism, a different type of religion or spirituality than western faiths. Yoga deals with the nature of the soul, God and immortality, which are the main topics of religion. Its main concern is spiritual and not merely exercise or health, though it is more concerned with the mystical side of religion, not the mere belief or institutionalized aspect. It is part of Hindu monastic training and practices.

Though Yoga is one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy (sad darsanas), it is used by all the six systems in various ways. Yoga is coupled with another of these six schools, the Samkhya system, which sets forth the cosmic principles (tattvas) that the Yogi seeks to realized. Nyaya and Vaisheshika, two of the other systems, provide the rational and philosophical training that Yoga teachers in India follow. Purva Mimamsa or the ritualistic school was the basis of much of the Karma Yoga of the yogic system.

Uttara Mimamsa (also called Vedanta) is closely connected to Yogic traditions of Bhakti and Jnana Yoga, and their teachers have always used the eight limbs of Yoga. Most of the great teachers who brought Yoga to the modern world, like Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindo, and Swami Shivananda, were Vedantins and emphasized Yoga-Vedanta.

These six Vedic systems were generally studied together. While we can find philosophical arguments and disputes between them, they all aim at unfolding the truth of the Vedas and differ mainly in details or levels of approach. All quote from Vedic texts, including the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Puranas for deriving their authority.

Some Western scholars call these “the six schools of Indian philosophy.” This is a mistake. These schools only represent Vedic systems, not the non-Vedic of which they are several. In addition they only represent Vedic based philosophies of the classical era. There are many other Vedic and Hindu philosophical systems of later times. Yet even these later systems like Kashmiri Shaivism, the Hatha Yoga, Siddha Yoga and Nath Yoga traditions, frequently quote from and accept not on the teachings of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

 


Buddhist Philospohy

The Buddhist schools, of which there are four in classical Indian philosophy, though they share many ideas and with Vedic spirituality, like karma and rebirth, do not accept the authority of the Vedas and rejected certain key Vedic principles.

Buddhism has basically two varieties. The northern, Mahayana or “great vehicle” tradition, which prevails in Tibet, China and Japan and adjacent countries. This is the type of Buddhism that is most known and followed by the largest number of people. It includes Chan, Zen, Buddhist Tantra, Vajrayana, and Dzog Chen. The southern, Theravadin, prevails in the south of Asia, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. Vipassana is the most commonly known practice of Theravada Buddhism. Generally the Theravadin form is considered to be the older of the two forms of Buddhism. However, most Indian Buddhism, including the Sanskrit Buddhist Sutras, is of the Mahayana branch and has been best preserved in Tibet, where it has undergone a further development into Vajrayana. There are some disagreements between these two main Buddhist lines philosophically.

The Mahayana tradition, particularly in its Tantric forms, uses breathing exercises, mantras, visualizations and deities much like the Yoga tradition. The Theravadin tradition has less in common with Yoga, though does use similar meditation and concentration methods.  For example, some Vipassana teachers have often criticized the use of mantra, which is common not only in Hindu Yogic traditions but in the Mahayana Buddhist teachings.

Buddhism grew up in a cultural base of Hinduism. For this reason Indian and Tibetan Buddhism include Ayurvedic medicine, Hindu astrology, Sanskrit, the same rules of iconography and forms of temple worship, and other common factors as the Hindu tradition. A number of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, like Ganesha and Sarasvati, appear in the Buddhist tradition. Some figures like the Goddess Tara appear in both. Yet as Buddhism moved to other countries outside of India many of these connections were forgotten.

Nepal has remained as one country in which both these religions have continued, though Nepal has a Hindu majority, a Hindu king and has been officially a Hindu state. Yet in Nepal Hindu Yoga and Buddhists traditions are rarely simply equated. Nepalese Hindus and Buddhists respect one another but tend to follow one tradition but seldom both.

 


Yoga and Meditation

Today Yoga is most known for its asana tradition or yogic postures, which are the most popular form of the system. Buddhism is known as a tradition of meditation, in popular forms of Buddhist meditation like Zen and Vipassana. This is strange because Yoga traditionally defines itself as meditation, or calming the disturbances of the mind, not as asana, which is taught as an aid to meditation. In the two hundred Sutras in the Yoga Sutras, only three deal with asana. Most of the Yoga System of Patanjali is concerned with the science of meditation as concentration, meditation and Samadhi (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi). In the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Yoga is defined as Samadhi or spiritual absorption. In the West we hear people talk of “Yoga and meditation,” yoga meaning asana or some other outer practice like pranayama. If one states this in India, one hears “Yoga and meditation, are they two?”

Unfortunately, many people who have studied Yoga in the West have learned only the asana side of the Yoga teaching, not the meditation side. Some of them therefore look to Buddhist teachings, like Zen or Vipassana, for meditation, not realizing that yogic and Vedantic forms of meditation are traditionally not only part of the yogic system, but its core teaching! The cause for this often resides with Yoga teachers who have not studied or been taught the meditation side of their own tradition. There is nothing wrong with doing Yoga asanas and Buddhist meditation. But one who claims to be a Yoga teacher and does not know the Yogic meditation tradition cannot claim to be an adept Yoga teacher. The real Yoga tradition aims at producing meditation masters, not merely flexible bodies.

Yoga and its related Vedic and Hindu systems teaches numerous types of meditation. These may include pranayama techniques like So’ham Pranayama or the various types of Kriya Yoga (like that taught by Paramahansa Yogananda), meditation on deities (Krishna, Shiva, Devi) and  devotional approaches, every sort of mantra from simple bija mantras like Om to long extended mantras like Gayatri, the use of yantras and other geometrical devises, diverse concentration methods, cultivating the state of the witness, or Self-inquiry taught as by Ramana Maharshi and the greater tradition of Advaita Vedanta. It is a rich meditation tradition of which the rich asana tradition is merely an aspect.

 


Philosophical Differences Between Hindu Yoga-Vedanta Traditions and Buddhism

Buddhist texts, both Mahayana and Theravadin, contain refutations of the Atman, Brahman, Ishvara, and other key tenets of Hindu Yoga and Vedanta. Note the Lankavatara Sutra, which is typical in this regard. Refutation of Buddhist teachings does not occur in the Vedas, which are pre-Buddhist but do occur in later Hindu literature. Vedantic, Samkhya and Yoga texts contain refutations of several Buddhist doctrines. Criticisms of Buddhist teachings occur in the main commentaries on the Yoga Sutras, starting from that of Vyasa, and are common in Vedanta.

Such critiques can be found among the works of the greatest Hindu and Buddhist sages like Shankara of the Hindus, Nagarjuna and Aryadeva of the Buddhists. Relative to Yoga and Buddhism one of the most interesting interactions was between Ishvara Krishna (not Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita) and the Buddhist guru of Vasubandhu, the founder of the Vijnanavada school. The debate was said to be won by Ishvara Krishna and the record of his arguments, the Samkhya Karika was produced, which has become the main text on Samkhya. Vijnanavada, also called Yogachara, is perhaps the closest Buddhist school to classical Yoga, but curiously was the Buddhist system most in conflict with it in philosophical debates.

Yet we must note there have been similar debates within each tradition, with Advaita Vedanta critiques of other Hindu traditions like Samkhya-Yoga, or Buddhist Madhyamika critiques of Buddhist Vijnanavada and other Buddhist traditions. The Indian tradition cherished debate as a means of finding truth and did not simply aim at superficial intellectual agreements. This tradition of free and open debate is alive not only in India but in Tibet. The Indian tradition never required intellectual uniformity but honored diversity, something we should also remember today.

 


How Hindu Yoga and Buddhist Teachings Compare

Yoga and Buddhism are both meditation traditions devised to help us transcend karma and rebirth and realize the truth of consciousness. They see the suffering and impermanence inherent in all birth and seek to alleviate it through developing a higher awareness. Both emphasize the need to dissolve the ego, the sense of the me and the mine, and return to the original reality that is not limited by the separate self. Both traditions emphasize enlightenment or inner illumination to be realized through meditation.

Both systems recognize dharma, the principle of truth or natural law, as the basic law of the universe we must come to understand. Such dharmas are the law of karma and the unity of all sentient beings. Buddhism defines itself as Buddha Dharma or the dharma of the enlightened ones, which is seen as a tradition transcending time or place. Yoga defines itself as part of the Hindu tradition called Sanatana Dharma, the universal or eternal dharma, which is not defined according to any particular teacher or tradition. Both traditions have called themselves Arya Dharma or the Dharma of the noble truth.

The main differences between the two systems are at a philosophical level, though both can be very diverse in this regard. Vedic systems are built upon fundamental principles like the Self (Atman), the Cosmic Lord (Ishvara), and Godhead or Absolute (Brahman). Buddhism tends to reject such ontological principles as creations of the mind itself. In this regard Vedic systems are more idealistic and Buddhism systems more phenomenological.

Apart from such philosophical differences both systems share the same basic ethical values like non-violence, truthfulness, non-attachment and non-stealing. The vows that Buddhist monks take and those that monks and sadhus take in the Yoga tradition are the same, so are those of Jain monks.

 


The Absolute

Vedanta defines the absolute as a metaphysical principle Being-Consciousness-Bliss, or Brahman in which there is perfect peace and liberation. Buddhism does recognize an Absolute, which is non-dual and beyond all birth and death. However, Buddhism generally does not allow it any definition and regards it as Void or Shunyata. It is sometimes called the Dharmakaya or body of dharma.


Self and not-Self

Buddhism generally rejects the Self (Atman or Purusha) of Yoga-Vedanta and emphasizes the non-Self (anatman). It says that there is no Self in anything and therefore that the Self is merely a fiction of the mind. Whatever we point out as the Self, the Buddhists state, is merely some impression, thought or feeling, but no such homogenous entity like a Self can be found anywhere.

The Yoga-Vedanta tradition emphasizes Self-realization or the realization of our true nature. It states that the Self does not exist in anything external. If we cannot find a self in anything it is no wonder, because if we did find a self in something it would not be the self but that particular thing. We cannot point out anything as the Self because the Self is the one who points all things out. The Self transcends the mind-body complex, but this is not to say that it does not exist. Without the Self we would not exist. We would not even be able to ask questions.

Yoga-Vedanta discriminates between the Self (Atman), which is our true nature as consciousness, and the ego (generally called ahamkara), which is the false identification of our true nature with the mind-body complex. The Atman of Vedanta is not the ego but is the enlightened awareness which transcends time and space.

However a number of Buddhist traditions, particularly traditions outside of India, like the Chan and Zen traditions of China, have used terms like Self-mind, one’s original nature, the original nature of consciousness or one’s original face, which are similar to the Self of Vedanta.


Mind and Self

Buddhism defines reality in terms of mind and often refers to ultimate truth as the One Mind or original nature of the mind. In Yoga, mind (manas) is regarded as an instrument of consciousness that is the Self. It speaks of the One Self and the many minds which are its vehicles. For it mind is not an ultimate principle but something created.

If we examine the terms mind and Self in the two traditions it appears that what Yoga criticizes as attachment to the mind and ego is much like the Buddhist criticism of the attachment to the self, while what Yoga calls the Supreme Self or Purusha is similar to the Buddhist idea of the original nature of the Mind or One Mind. The Buddhist enlightened mind which dwells within the heart (Bodhicitta) resembles the Supreme Self (Paramatman) which also dwells within the heart. Yet these similarities aside, the formulations and methodologies of the two systems can be quite different.


Ishvara or the Creator

The  Yoga tradition is based upon a recognition of, respect for and devotion to God or the creator, preserver and dissolver of the universe. One of its main principles is surrender to God or the Divine within (Ishvara-Pranidhana), which is said to be the most direct method to Self-realization. Theism occurs in the various Yoga-Vedanta teachings, though often subordinated to the Self-Absolute, which transcends even the Creator. This is perhaps the main point of difference between Yoga and Buddhism. Buddhism rejects God (Ishvara) or a cosmic lord and creator. It sees no need for any creator and considers that living beings arise through karma alone. The Dalai Lama recently noted that Buddha is similar to God in omniscience but is not a creator of the universe.

Yet some modern Buddhist teachers use the term God and make it equivalent to the Buddha-nature. There is also the figure of the Adi-Buddha or primordial Buddha in some Buddhist traditions who resembles Ishvara. Lord Buddha appears as God not in the sense of a theological entity but as the Divine potential inherent in living being and is similarly is prayed to for forgiveness of misdeeds.


Karma and Rebirth

Both systems see karma as the main causative factor behind rebirth in the world. However, in Buddhism karma is said to be a self-existent principle. Buddhism states that the world exists owing to the beginningless karma of living beings. In Yoga and Vedanta, however, karma is not a self-existent principle. The world is created by God (Ishvara), the creative aspect of consciousness. Karma as a mere force of inertia and attachment cannot explain the creation of the world but only our attachment to it. Karma is a force dispensed by God, which cannot exist by itself, just as a lawcode cannot exist without a judge. However some other Vedic systems, also, like Purva Mimamsa put more emphasis upon karma than upon God or Ishvara.

Yoga recognizes the existence of a Jiva or individual soul who is reborn in various bodies. Buddhism denies the existence of such a soul and says that rebirth is just the continuance of a stream of karma, not any real entity.


The Figure of the Buddha

Buddhist traditions go back to Lord Buddha and most emphasize studying the life of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. The Vedic tradition, on the other hand, recognizes many great teachers and avatars and there is no single teacher that everyone must follow or look back to. Hinduism has accepted Buddha as a great teacher but it has included him among its stream of many other teachers, gurus and avatars.

The term Buddha is common in Vedic teachings, as it is a common Sanskrit term meaning wise, awake, aware or enlightened. When Buddhism is referred to in Hindu literature it is usually called Bauddha Dharma or Saugata Dharma, as there is nothing in the term Buddha in Sanskrit that refers to a particular person or religion. While Hindus make Buddha into an avatar, in Buddhism Buddha cannot be an avatar because Buddhism has no God that Buddha could manifest.


Nirvana

Both systems regard Nirvana or mergence in the Absolute as a primary goal of practice. However in the Buddhist tradition,  Nirvana is generally described only negatively as cessation. It is given no positive appellations. In the Vedic tradition Nirvana is described in a positive way as mergence into Brahman or Sacchidananda, Being-Consciousness-Bliss, the realization of the infinite and eternal Self, called Brahma Nirvana. Yet both systems agree that this truth transcends all concepts. Vedanta describes Nirvana as freedom or liberation (Moksha). This term does not occur in Buddhism which does not accept the existence of any soul that can be liberated.


Devotion and Compassion

Yoga with its recognition of God emphasizes devotion and surrender to God (Ishvara-pranidhana) as one of the main spiritual paths. It contains an entire Yogic approach based on devotion, Bhakti Yoga, through which we open our hearts to God and surrender to the Divine Will. As Buddhism does not recognize God, devotion to God does not appear so clearly as a Buddhist path. Yet Buddhists do emphasize devotion to the Buddha and great Bodhisattvas and so does have a devotional component. Tibetan Buddhists have deity Yoga.

Buddhism emphasizes the role of the Bodhisattva, the enlightened one who stays on after enlightenment to teach and guide living beings. As according to Yoga the Divine and all the sages merged in it are ever present to help all beings, so there is no need for such a special Bodhisattva vow. Yoga values compassion as an ethical principle, however, and says that we cannot realize our true Self as long as we think that we are separate from other creatures.


Gods and Goddesses/ Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, therefore, are not deities or Gods and Goddesses. They are not forms of the Divine Father and Mother and have no role in creating, preserving and dissolving the universe. They are not the parents of all creatures but wise guides and teachers. They are described as great beings who once lived and attained enlightenment and took various vows to stay in the world to save living beings.

For example perhaps the greatest Buddhist Goddess, Tara is such a Bodhisattva, an enlightened person – not the Divine Mother like Durga or Kali of Hinduism – but a great enlightened sage who has continued to exist in the world. She is not the Goddess as the universal creator but an expression of the enlightened mind and its power of compassion. There are also meditation Buddhas (Dhyani Buddhas), who represent archetypes of enlightenment.

Yet though the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not forms of any Cosmic Creator, they can be prayed to for grace and protection. For example, the Bodhisattva Tara was thought to save those in calamities. Worship of various Bodhisattvas is called Deity Yoga in the Tibetan tradition.


Summary

If we can equate the One Mind of the Buddhists with the One Self of Vedanta, make Buddha and Ishvara the same and give the Buddha the power of creation of the universe, both traditions could be synthesized  at a philosophical level.

I have found people in the West who consider themselves to be Buddhists to be Vedantic in their philosophy. While they accept karma and rebirth, they also accept the existence of God as the Creator, the higher Self and an Absolute of Pure Being. These are the Ishvara, Atman and Brahman of Vedantic thought.

Choosing a Path

There are a number of people who combine Hindu Yoga and Buddhism,. Some people may follow gurus in both traditions. It is easy for Buddhists to use Yoga asanas or pranayama, the outer aspects of Yoga teachings. It is more difficult for them to meditate upon the Supreme Self of Vedanta, and the non-Self of Buddhism.  It is difficult to maintain certain devotional approaches in a Buddhist context where there is no real Cosmic Lord or Creator.

Generally, gurus either within Vedic or Buddhist traditions require that their disciples emphasize their particular teachings. In this regard, they may not accept their followers combining teachings and practices from other gurus and traditions, particularly those of different orientations. In this eclectic age, many people do some synthetic experimentation combining different spiritual paths and teachings according to their inclinations or inspirations. This is bound to continue and may prove fruitful, at least initially. Yet it can get people lost or confused, trying to mix teachings together they do not really understand.

Jumping back and forth between teachers and traditions may prevent us from getting anywhere with any of them. Superficial synthesis as a mental exercise is no substitute for deep practice that requires dedicated concentration. The goal is not to combine the paths but to reach to the goal, which requires taking a true path to the summit. While there may be many paths up to the top of a mountain, one will not climb far cross-crossing between paths. Above all, it is not for students to define their paths. It is for the masters, the great lineage bearers in the traditions, to do so. In that regard more Hindu-Buddhist dialogue is necessary and is occurring between the two traditions, particularly in India.

Honoring All Paths: Following Our True Path

Today we are entering into a global age that requires a global meditation-based spirituality. This means honoring all forms of the inner quest regardless of where these originate, even if our own inclinations are different. The unity of truth cuts across all boundaries and breaks down all divisions between human beings. It is crucial that such meditation traditions as Yoga and Buddhism form a common front in light of the needs of the global era. All such true spiritual traditions face common enemies in this materialistic age. Their common values of protecting the earth, non-violence, recognition of the law of karma, and the practice of meditation are crucial to deliver us out of our present world crisis.

Yet in coming together the diversity of teachings should be preserved, which means not only recognizing their unity but respecting their differences. This is the same issue as that of different cultures. While we should recognize the unity of humanity, we should allow various cultures to preserve their unique forms, and not simply throw them all into one big melting pot, in which their distinctions are lost.

True unity is universality that fosters a creative multiplicity, not a uniformity that reduces everything to a stereotype. Truth is not only One but Infinite and cannot be reduced to any final fixed forms. Pluralism is essential as each individual is unique and we should have a broad enough view to allow others to have contrary opinions. As the Vedic Rishis stated, “That which is the One Truth the seers teach in diverse ways.” This is to accommodate all the different types and levels of individuals

While we should honor all paths, we may need to follow a single path to the goal. Hopefully, that path will be broad, but every path must have some guidelines and not every path will work for everyone.

Vamadeva (David Frawley)

January 9, 2020

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